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Corona Jerks; Russian Doctors' Mysterious Deaths; Vaccine Race. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 5, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: One hundred and eight, that's the number of potential coronavirus vaccines in development around the world right now, according to the World Health Organization. Eight are in clinical trials.

Joining us now, Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, to talk about one of them.

Dr. Hotez, thanks for joining us.

Pfizer and the German company BioNTech have begun testing their experimental vaccine in the U.S. They say they have the potential to supply millions of doses by the end of 2020, if their vaccine shows promising results in trials.

What do you make of that time? Is that possible?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, there's going to be quite a number of vaccines moving through the clinical pipeline. I'm hoping ours might be one of them as well.

And they all work along -- with pretty much the same principle. They interfere with the spike protein binding to the receptor. But it's a matter of what arm of the immune response you're going to stimulate.

So, ours is a recombinant protein vaccine. Pfizer's is an RNA vaccine. You have heard about other RNA vaccines. There are DNA vaccines, adenoviral vaccines. So those are -- it's great that we're looking at this diverse array of technologies, but then it enters into this sort of bottleneck, where you need to take the appropriate amount of time to show that the vaccines are both safe and that they actually work.

And that's the hard part. The principle of making the vaccine is less complicated than the fact that you have got to collect all of the data that you need to prove to the regulators and yourselves that the vaccines actually work and are safe.

And it's hard to see how we're going to do that by the end of the year. So that's never been done before. So I think probably 2021 is a much more realistic timeline. And even that would be a world record. So we're taking it one day at a time.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the one that you're working on, because you're also the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor. And the Baylor group is developing a coronavirus vaccine.

When do you think you will be in the stage where you're ready to do trials on humans?

HOTEZ: So, this is a neat vaccine.

This is -- we're doing this also with Texas Children's Hospital. And, together, we have just formed a new partnership, announced it today, with PATH. They used to stand for the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health. Now they just go by the name of PATH.

They're Seattle-based. They led the development of the meningococcal A vaccine for Africa, the malaria vaccine for Africa, the rotavirus vaccine. They have an unparalleled track record for access in global health.

So, we're developing a low-cost, highly accessible recombinant protein vaccine. That would be very inexpensive. And we're hoping it might be one of the first global health vaccines made for COVID-19, because this virus is now racing through.

You have heard about what's going on in Brazil right now and Ecuador. It's really devastating. This will move into Africa and India, likely, in the Southern Hemisphere in the summer months. So there's a real need to have that low-cost, accessible, highly effective vaccine.

So we're hoping it can go into clinical trials sometime in the summer. And that will add to the list of vaccines. We're worried about some of the other ones, whether they will really filter down to low- and middle-income countries in a reasonable period of time.

So we're deciding -- we decided with PATH that we're going to accelerate something now for people who don't have access to vaccines otherwise.

TAPPER: And Dr. Fauci has talked about how the need to mass-produce the vaccine might start even before the vaccine has been approved, just so that it -- that you can get up to speed.

One question I wonder, given the fiasco we have seen in terms of testing, does the United States have the infrastructure, once a vaccine has been approved, God willing, to distribute 330 million vaccines and get the country inoculated?


HOTEZ: Well, that's -- it's -- as I say, it's unprecedented. It's a Manhattan-style project.

We're -- I mean, those of us who are working on vaccines are working day and night trying to figure this out. I think what you're going to see is -- and Dr. Fauci has already talked about this -- they're going to start manufacturing some of these vaccines, the term he uses that, at risk.

That means, even if they don't know if the vaccine works or it's safe or not, they're going to start mass-producing it, knowing that several of those vaccines are not going to go anywhere. In fact, most vaccines that start clinical trials often don't finish it.

So there will be an expensive investment by the U.S. government, but if you really want to get a vaccine going, you can't really wait to get all of the data sometime next year and say, OK, now we're going to start making it. So you have got to -- you have got to do things in parallel. It's a new way of doing things.

TAPPER: Dr. Peter Hotez, good luck with what you're working on. And thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

TAPPER: Adding to the mixed messages, President Trump's pick for the director of national intelligence position weighing in on the origin of coronavirus. Was it in a lab? Was it at a wet market?

That's next.




SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Have you seen any intelligence that finds with high confidence or any confidence, for that matter, that the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, rather than the market?



TAPPER: That was President Trump's pick for director of national intelligence, Congressman John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, telling the Senate Intelligence Committee at his confirmation hearing earlier today that he has not seen any evidence that the novel coronavirus originated in a lab.

This comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted Sunday that there was -- quote -- "enormous evidence" supporting that the virus came from a lab in Wuhan, China. Ratcliffe noted that he has not been attending classified briefings due to the outbreak.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now.

Alex, Dr. Fauci said in an interview that he does not believe this virus was manmade.

Tell us more.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dr. Fauci now weighing in, Jake, saying that from everything that he's seen of the evolution of this virus, that it moved naturally from an animal to a human. And, Jake, that part, that this is not manmade, is pretty much universally accepted. The Office of Director of National Intelligence is on the record saying as much.

Where the divisions start is where exactly the virus originated in Wuhan, whether it started in that market or as an accidental release from the lab.

Dr. Fauci is saying that, regardless, it started in nature. And what you're hearing from members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they're pushing this theory that it was accidentally released from a lab.

Now, you have the U.S. intelligence community, which generally doesn't say anything in public, unless they have an assessment coming out, saying they're looking into both those theories, the market and the lab. And, in fact, they say that they have evidence of both. The only thing that they're saying with certainty is that it came from China and that it's not manmade.

But in seeing the Trump administration pushing this theory that it was accidentally released from a lab, the U.S. finds itself increasingly in isolation, at odds with its intelligence partners.

I was speaking with a Western diplomatic official who has seen the intelligence, who says that it's highly likely that the virus was not an accidental release. This is, according to this official, the growing consensus of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership that includes Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

And so what you're seeing is this group of nations essentially saying that what they're seeing is an assessment. It's not 100 percent. But what they believe is that the virus occurred in nature and came out of this lab.

But, Jake, what everyone agrees -- sorry -- came out of the market.

And what everybody agrees on is that without cooperation from China, without transparency, you're never actually going to get to the bottom this. But their best assessment, the American intelligence partners' best assessment, is that this did come out of the market in nature -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

Three Russian doctors on the front lines of the pandemic in that country mysteriously falling out of hospital windows -- what one of them said before the fall that's raising some serious questions.

That's next.



TAPPER: Within just the last few weeks, three different doctors in Russia, all of them dealing with that country's coronavirus pandemic, have all mysteriously fallen out of windows.

Two died. The third suffered severe head trauma. Police in Russia are investigating all three instances, as CNN's Matthew Chance reports for us now.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind the face masks, two stressed-out Russian doctors struggling in this country's coronavirus pandemic.

"We haven't got enough protection gear," the one on the right complains on social media. Now he says Russian police are accusing him of spreading fake news.

The other doctor says he's tested positive for coronavirus, but was forced to work anyway. Now he's fighting for his life, after falling mysteriously from a hospital window.

This was him, Alexander Shulepov, shortly before his unexpected plunge, with a video statement completely retracting his allegations of mistreatment.

"I was just overwhelmed with emotion," he explains, "and scared of my condition. But, of course, I was taken off shift and didn't treat any other patients."

Now he's dealing with severe head injuries and can say no more.

But he's not the only Russian doctor recently silenced by a suspicious window fall. In fact, he's the third. Earlier this month, the acting head of this hospital in Siberia died after plunging out of a window during a meeting with health officials. Local television reported she opposed plans to convert her hospital into a coronavirus facility, citing lack of protective gear, and asked a colleague what happened.


"It's all very strange," he says. "She was a kind woman. Maybe, with all this coronavirus, they pressured her with requirements," he suggests, "do this, do that."

One Russian doctor who knows about the current pressure is Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of a doctors union, who has become an outspoken critic of Russia's coronavirus response, accusing the Kremlin of underplaying the pandemic.

This is her being manhandled and arrested last month, trying to deliver protective equipment. She says the strange case of the three Russian doctors in suspicious window falls, including another last month who worked at the main cosmonaut training center, is more about psychological stress on front-line staff than any sinister plot to silence critics.

ANASTASIA VASILYEVA, DOCTORS ALLIANCE: No, I don't think that somebody is targeting -- targeting doctors, no. The destruction of health care system, and, of course, this mean that it's very difficult to treat in such conditions a lot of patients with coronavirus.

CHANCE: We have seen the strain on Russian medical staff already, like these workers with coronavirus symptoms in Southern Russia crammed into a laundry cupboard, with no space on the wards.

Elsewhere, complaints abound of shifts lasting days or 10-hour waits in ambulances to admit patients.

Russia may not be murdering its doctors, but the pressures of its pandemic could be what's really killing them.


CHANCE: Well, tonight, we're seeing absolutely no sign of that pandemic in Russia slowing down. In fact, it seems to be expanding at the one of the fastest paces of any country in the world, more than 10,000 new cases identified in the past 24 hours alone -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A park ranger pushed into a lake, as social distancing restrictions are bringing out the absolute worst in some people. And now there's a new term for this phenomena.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: The pandemic has brought out the absolute worst in some people.

As CNN's Tom Foreman reports, the behavior has led to the creation of a new vocabulary word to describe this new era.


TINA JAMES, COUSIN OF SLAIN SECURITY GUARD: It's just -- this is senseless. Over a mask. Over a mask! I don't understand it!

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The family of security guard Calvin Munerlyn is in shock after he was killed working at a store in Michigan. Why? Prosecutors say he had asked a customer to put on a face mask, as required by the state.

But two family members got angry.

DAVID LEYTON, GENESEE COUNTY, MICHIGAN, PROSECUTOR: One of the black males started yelling at Munerlyn about disrespecting his wife. The other black male then walks up to Munerlyn and shoots Munerlyn.

FOREMAN: In Texas, a park ranger is pushed into the water after asking people to socially distance. In Ohio, the governor quickly reverses a new rule requiring masks after howls of outrage. GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): It became clear to me that this was just something that was a bridge too far. People were just not going to accept a mandate from the government.

FOREMAN: Same in Oklahoma.

A town passes an ordinance requiring masks in stores and restaurants, and?

NORMAN MCNICKLE, CITY MANAGER, STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA: The next morning, when businesses opened, they began receiving verbal abuse and threats of physical violence for being -- from patrons being asked to put on a face mask.

FOREMAN: The ordinance is quickly pulled back.

People who aggressively reject travel restrictions, social distancing, masks and more are becoming so common, the Dutch even have a name for them: corona jerks. And some who take the rules more seriously are pushing back, shaming the most militant violators of health codes and reporting others to authorities.

In South Carolina, police say a woman was coughing and licking her fingers while handling food in a grocery store. She was arrested. And the distance between the two sides in this battle over how to handle the virus is growing ever less social.

JAMES: This is not the way to do things right now!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not the way.

JAMES: We need to come together.


FOREMAN: Many outspoken critics of social distancing really say that what they're fighting for is their freedom, freedom to go where they want, do what they want, with whom they want, even if that freedom makes someone else very sick -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

They had some of the most critical roles at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York. And they were not doctors. They were not nurses, but they gave their lives to protect their patients.

Thanks to "The New York Times" for highlighting the work of Priscilla Carrow, Wayne Edwards, and Derik Braswell, each of whom handed out supplies such as face masks and gloves at the hospital, all of whom died from coronavirus.

May their memories be a blessing.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. [17:00:00]